Indians sign P Ohka to minor league deal

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians signed pitcher Tomo Ohka to a minor league contract on Friday, a day before free-agent talks were expected to heat up at the winter meetings.

Ohka, who has won 50 games in nine major league seasons with Boston, Washington, Milwaukee and Toronto, will report to Cleveland's new training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., next month.

While he'll be a long shot to make Cleveland's opening-day roster, the 32-year-old gives the Indians depth and options in case of early season injuries, a past problem for the club.

The Indians will enter 2009 with only Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona and Aaron Laffey as certainties in their starting rotation. Jake Westbrook won't be back until midseason after undergoing elbow surgery in June. Jeremy Sowers, Anthony Reyes, Zach Jackson and Scott Lewis will compete for spots during camp.

One of general manager Mark Shapiro's top offseason goals is to add a starting pitcher, and he'll meet with several free agents in Las Vegas at the winter meetings, which begin Saturday. Shapiro's No. 1 priority is a closer and the Indians will be active in a market that includes Francisco Rodriguez, Kerry Wood and Trevor Hoffman, the career saves leader.

The Indians are also pursuing an infielder and have had talks with third baseman Casey Blake's agent. Blake played third and right field with the Indians from 2003 until this June, when Shapiro traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohka spent last season with Triple-A Charlotte after signing with the Chicago White Sox. He went 5-11 with a 4.18 ERA in 20 starts. The right-hander last pitched in the majors for the Blue Jays in 2007, when he went 2-5 with a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts.

He won a career-high 13 games for Montreal in 2002.